Mont Blanc has a voice full of power that Percy Shelley brings to light in one of his many poems about the egotistical sublime. Join me in analyzing what we gain by reading the poem, Mont Blanc by Percy Shelley.
Image sourcing from: Pintrest.com and Google Images
Like most writers of the romantic period Percy Shelley’s Mont Blanc is all about himself. Inspired by writers of the same period and a societal rejection of the industrial age the entire poem comes across rather egotistical and uneventful. It is merely the admired account of the tallest mountain in the Swiss Alps. In fact the only purpose it serves is as an inspiration to Shelley. Yet he makes the argument through language and symbolism that this idolization of man in nature gives beauty a reason to exist. Without the advanced mind to comprehend, appreciate and be inspired by, what is the purpose of beauty in nature? Beauty, like art and writing, is meant to be admired and if not talked about then silently appreciated in the mind.
It is important to note first how Shelley achieves this sense of vast glory the mountain has through language. “From the ice gulphs that gird his [the river Arve’s] secret throne/bursting through these dark mountains like the flame/of lightning through the tempest” (Shelley 17-19). There is an overabundance of elemental stimulation here that leaves the reader and the narrator astounded, in awe of the mighty power this mountain has. Not only is ice engulfing a part of the river, there is a power, presumably glaciers, that are large enough to burst through the mountain sides. They are then compared to the “flame of lightning through the tempest”, which is a line that holds the most imagery for this quote, including a contradiction of not only flame against a rain storm but a flame which acts like a lightning bolt as well.
How often are so many elemental forces presented by one object of study? Mont Blanc, Shelley writes, is displaying its power and beauty by being akin to fire, lightning, water, wind and ice all at the same time. It is this overstimulation that inspires the narrator. Again in lines 85-90 does Shelley describe this whirlwind of elements. He uses the terms; “lightning”, “rain”, “earthquakes” and “fiery floods”. Again telling us how Shelley views the mountain. Mont Blanc is a force nature so powerful it commands control of the earth, the sky and the waters around it all at the same time. Shelley also personifies the mountain throughout the poem, “thou hast a voice, great mountain” (Shelley 80). Personifying such a powerful being gives not only Shelley but also the reader a sense of admired apprehension. Mont Blanc is not to be trifled with, it is to be admired and almost worshipped. This mountain is so awe inspiring Shelley is immediately influenced by it, thus we see the reason for the creation of this poem, Mont Blanc. In this way Shelley is giving the mountain a purpose beyond simply being there. He is pushing human comprehension unto it in the most proficient use of the mountain’s beauty.
To create a work of art that is published, admired, then talked about and makes money is arguably the best use for the poetic muse a poet like Percy Shelley gains from nature. In the poem he argues that without the human mind to contemplate nature’s artistry, it cannot exist. “And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea/if to the human mind’s imaginings/silence and solitude were vacancy” (Shelley 142-4). Shelley is speaking directly to the mountain here, asking what would you be if humans did not give nature’s silent beauty meaning through their imagination. There is no purpose to beauty without anyone to appreciate it. The very idea of an aesthetic is to be appealing to the eye. If humans, and in Shelley’s case poets, did not write poems, sonnets, or fictions inspired from great mountains such as Mont Blanc it would merely exist as another part of the earth. Its aesthetic value would be wasted and lost to eyes that can’t create meaning out of beauty.
To further emphasize the through provoking aspect of Mont Blanc, Shelley writes; “And this, the naked countenance of earth/on which I gaze, even these primeval mountains/teach the averting mind” (Shelley 98-100). Because Shelley can comprehend the grandeur of the mountain he can learn from it lessons of life and death. In which he takes a few lines to describe how everything in the world is connected to, is born and dies within the same earth the mountain sits on.
Shelley’s handling of the sublime in these poems, a writing technique used often in romantic period England where man is influenced heavily by nature, reflects more on the author’s personal views than on anything else. Shelley is a man of nature, he admires it and like many other writers during his time, wishes to talk more of nature than of the increasing industrial age that was taking over. Given the time period it is no wonder Shelley and other poets wrote so much about the sublime, egotistical of not. The industrial age was a time of change for England, many feared that by becoming more urbanized England would lose its sense of admiration for natural beauty, ergo the reason for the value of aesthetics in the romantic period.
Shelley takes the sublime a step further however, he makes himself the narrator as the entirety of the poem is told through his point of view. Shelley paints a vibrant picture of the value he sees in this mighty mountain. This technique is referred to as the egotistical sublime and used by many romantic period writers, many of whom were inspired by William Wordsworth. Looking at the footnotes in the Norton Anthology of English literature we can even see that Shelley may have been influenced by Wordsworth’s ideals when it comes to poetry. Not only is the use of egotistical sublime similar to Wordsworth but in the first footnote regarding Shelley’s poem we see part of a preface written by Shelley which states; “It [the poem] was composed…as an indisciplined overflowing of the soul” (Norton Anthology 770). This sounds
conveniently similar to Wordsworth’s claim in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads that poetry should be a “spontaneous overflow of emotion” written when feelings are “recollected in tranquility”. Shelley would not be the first poet of this period to be inspired so by nature and by Wordsworth’s claims to how poetry should be written. Indeed Wordsworth represented, through his writing and essays on poets, an all encompassing ideal of the romantic poet in 18th century England.
Mont Blanc, revolving around egotistical sublime and the beauty of nature does the same, capturing easily the overall values that England held in the romantic period. It talks of everlasting beauty, nature as a force mightier than humankind and as something to be inspired by. Mont Blanc claims that beauty cannot exist without a human mind to comprehend it because if imagination does not give way to meaning there can be no purpose for vibrant trees and mighty mountains. Shelley, like most writers, is influenced by the intellectual works of those around him, namely William Wordsworth. Both of these writers at once teach readers through poetry how mother nature can inspire through grandeur displays of her beauty and power.
Shelley, Percy. “Mont Blanc”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.
Lamia, in addition to being the main character of John Keats’s poem, is also a creature of Greek myth. Her name means “large shark” in ancient Greek (Atsma). Originally a queen of Libya, she became one of Zeus’s lovers as she was very beautiful. Hera found out and murdered her children in a jealous rage (Atsma). In order to help her get revenge, Zeus turned Lamia into a sea monster with an appetite for human children (Atsma). In this original myth, Lamia is a victim to the goddess’s wrath and Zeus’s weird perception of getting revenge rather than a true perpetrator of evil. Read more about the Lamia of myth here!
When we first meet Lamia in Keats’s poem, she is a beautiful snake with a woman’s mouth rather than a sea monster. She is “dazzling”, “rainbow-sided”, and has fair eyes (Keats 937). These are pretty words, however, she is also described as “some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self” (Keats 937). Changing Lamia from a sea monster to a beautiful snake could be a reference to the treacherous serpent in the bible. She also has a “woman’s mouth, with all its pearls complete” (Keats 937). According to the Bible, Eve convinces Adam to eat the apple, so the woman’s mouth with perfect teeth would be a vision of temptation but dishonesty. The snake combined with a woman’s mouth is a deadly combination, treacherous but beautiful. The snake-woman is the forbidden fruit herself.
Although she claims to love Lycius, the man she covets and asked Hermes to turn her human for, she does not seem to show much care for his well-being. After explaining to him that she cannot live among humans, he faints.
The cruel lady, without any show/ of sorrow for her tender favorite’s woe/ but rather, if her eyes could brighter be/ With brighter eyes and slow amenity/Put her new lips to his, and gave afresh/The life she had so tangled in her mesh:/And as he from one trance was wakening/ Into another, she began to sing,/ Happy in beauty, life, and love, and every thing,/A song of love, too sweet for earthly lyres,/While, like held breath, the stars drew in their panting fires/And then she whisper’d in such trembling tone,/As those who, safe together met alone/ For the first time through many anguish’d days,/ Use other speech than looks; bidding him raise/ His drooping head, and clear his soul of doubt,/ For that she was a woman, and without/ Any more subtle fluid in her veins/Than throbbing blood, and that the self-same pains/ Inhabited her frail-strung heart as his (Keats 942)
First of all, she is described as a “cruel lady”, another negative word. To be cruel is to mean to cause one harm, uncaring of the pain of others. These lines say explicitly she does not show any sign that she is concerned for her lover. On the contrary, her eyes could not possibly be any brighter once he faints. “Bright eyes” can be used as a euphemism for eagerness. As opposed to being concerned for his safety and well-being, she is excited to have him in such a vulnerable and easily corruptible state. His life is “so tangled in her mesh”, leaving him unable to escape her influence. Next, she sings so beautifully that she convinces him utterly that she is a normal woman and not a snake in disguise. This likens her to the Greek siren, whose lovely singing lures men to their death. The siren is also a water creature, which connects to the original Greek myth that she was transformed into some type of sea monster. Under the influence of her siren song, she also convinces him that “the self-same pains/Inhabited her frail-strung heart as his” (Keats, 941), implying that her heart is different from his and that she does not truly feel the same human love for him that he does for her. Lamia, although she protests that she was once human in the past, has proven here that she is a nefarious character.
Finally, Apollonius, Lycius’s old mentor, shows up unannounced to his and Lamia’s wedding. Apollonius is named after the Greek god Apollo, who is the god of music, poetry, archery, and light. However, he is also described as “the god who punishes and destroys the wicked and the overbearing” (Atsma). Lamia has already been described as cruel and demon-like, so it should not be surprising that a character with Apollo’s name, with his piercing, spear-like stare would be the one to ultimately destroy Lamia. Apollo is also the god of prophecies (Atsma). Right before Lamia and Lycius’s wedding, Apollonius is confirmed to be able to see the future as well. “His patient thought, had now begun to thaw/ and solve and melt:–‘twas just as he foresaw” (Keats 947). Since Apollonius is able to see the future, or at least guess correctly at what would happen next, we can draw further parallels between him and the god Apollo.
While in the original Greek myth Lamia may have been a victim of Hera’s wrath, in Keats’s poem Lamia is quite obviously depicted as a treacherous snake who keeps Lycius from his true calling—philosophy and rationality. Her siren spell traps him, and so when Apollonius the mentor reveals the truth, he dies along with her of a broken heart. According to Keats, Lamia was cruel for keeping Lycius underneath her spell and neglecting his studies. This poem is a warning to men. Beware of tempting women who will make you stray from the path of knowledge and truth, lest they turn out to betray you and take your life away. In short, beware of all-encompassing love.
Atsma, Aaron J. “APOLLO- Greek God of Music, Prophecy, & Healing.” Theoi Greek Mythology. 2001. Web. 30 Mar. 2017. <http://www.theoi.com/olympios/apollon.html>
Atsma, Aaron J. “LAMIA.” LAMIA – Demon & Sea-Monster of Greek Mythology. Theoi Greek Mythology, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017. <http://www.theoi.com/Ther/Lamia.html>.
Keats, John. “Lamia.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt and M. H. Abrams. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. 935-50. Print.
Waterhouse, John W. Lamia, Second Version. Digital Image. Wikipedia. Web. 30 Mar 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamia#/media/File:Lamia_Waterhouse.jpg>
Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal is presented in a way that is insanely inhumane, but also in a rather formal, convincing manner. To modern day readers, this proposition would first strike as blasphemy, but given that this was created in the Restoration period, this was not meant to portray an idea of realism but rather a suggestive hope for improvement, given the brilliant satire in the piece. “The greater share of the seventeenth century satires are in prose and follow the broader definition of a satire as ‘biting wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose vice or folly (uknowledge.uky.edu).’” Satire was used in the Restoration period for the purpose of improving humanity by acknowledging problems in society and attempting to reform them by using a comical and witty manner. Through the use of satire, Jonathan swift was able to expose and critique social injustices by proposing his satirical plan in an effort to express the problem that was Catholic oppression in Ireland in the 1700’s.
We are introduced to Swift’s satire right away in the text. He says, “… having turned my thoughts for many years, upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of our projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation… I propose to provide for them (babies) in such a manner, as, instead of being a charge upon their parents, or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall, on the contrary, contribute to the feeding, and partly to the cloathing of many thousands (Swift 141).” Here, we see Swift’s satirical plan, which is using the babies of the poor Irish for food and clothing, with which their parents will be rewarded a certain amount of money for. The satire in this passage is his use of the phrase “…and maturely weighed the several schemes of our projectors…” Although Swift may have weighed options for schemes to dissolve Ireland’s oppression and deprivation (Swift was raised fatherless and in poverty, a native of Ireland, a Protestant), his proposal turns out to be quite the opposite of “mature.” Swift, by saying that babies would “contribute to the feeding and partly to the clothing for many thousands,” is depicting this desire to solve Ireland’s oppressive problem in an immature and comical way, which is the element of satire. Here is a student-made video portraying the satire by Jonathan Swift, but in a more modernized light:
In this screenshot, you can see how this student depicted Swift’s attempt to display the poor people and see through their lens. I like how this video included a begging scene, because this proposal was not just satirically humorous with the act of eating babies, but had underlying notions that get uncovered as well.
The satire that Jonathan Swift uses is purposeful in the act to shed light upon these societal issues of a nation not coping and the poor being burdened. Swift says,
“Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people who are aged, diseased, or maimed; and I have been desired to employ my thoughts on what course may be taken, to ease the nation of so grievous an incumbrance … they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected… it would greatly lessen the number of Papists (Roman Catholics), with whom we are yearly over-run… (Swift 143-144).”
In this one passage, Swift first explains that the upper class Protestants were not confident enough to eat the poor Catholic babies because they were concerned with them carrying diseases. Then, he goes on to say that, yes, they are indeed “dying, rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin…” Here, Swift completely downplays the idea of the poor being sickly and struggling for survival by saying that the rich weren’t very excited to eat their babies because they might be carrying diseases and could in turn make them sick by consuming them. Even though he is speaking neglectfully and nonsensically, this satirical moment does shed light on the fact that there are poor people who are dying and aren’t getting any acknowledgement.
Swift, in A Modest Proposal also likes to shed the light onto the English landlords, with whom he blames for much of the Catholic’s struggle. He writes, “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children (Swift 142).”
Swift is placing some blame on the landlords for putting the Catholics out on the street, a.k.a. “devouring” them because they would most likely starve and end up sick. On this subject, I found this quote online:
“He believed England was exploiting and oppressing Ireland. Many Irishmen worked farms owned by Englishmen who charged high rents—so high that the Irish were frequently unable to pay them. Consequently, many Irish farming families continually lived on the edge of starvation…Swift satirizes the English landlords with outrageous humor, proposing that Irish infants be sold as food at age one, when they are plump and healthy, to give the Irish a new source of income and the English a new food product to bolster their economy and eliminate a social problem (cummingsstudyguides.net).”
So, one of the major initiators to this starving and begging problem that we see with the Catholics can be titled to the landlords. Swift satirically notions that, because it was these landlords who “devoured” the parents, they should be entitled to “devour” their one year-old babies. This can obviously be seen as a comical statement and a reckless suggestion.
One thing that Jonathan Swift does well is proposing actually reasonable solutions to Ireland’s problems, but then brushing them off as a waste of time. “Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentess at five shillings a pound: Of using neither cloaths, nor household furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: … Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants (Swift 145).” Here, we find out that Swift actually did take the time to think of schemes that would benefit everyday life in Ireland. But, he won’t listen to these “expedients,” as he says. Here, he is calling reasonable solutions blasphemous and sticking to his theory for selling and consuming one year-old babies. Can you see the satire?
A Modest Proposal is satirically brilliant. It is both convincing and absolutely barbaric at the same time. Swift does a good job to give reasons why this plan would work and then makes fun of the whole idea. The Restoration period laid the grounds for satirical writing and Swift took the idea and ran with it in this piece. He was able to speak of a topic that was surrounded by much controversy and feud during the era of the early-to-mid 1700’s and also be able to infuse satire into it. By satirically publishing this “modest” proposal, Swift exposed social injustices to the public, calling attention to abuses inflicted on Irish Catholics by well-to-do English Protestants.
Cummings. “A Modest Proposal: A Study Guide.” A Modest Proposal: A Study Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.
Seago, Kate. “Restoration Satire.” Uknowledge.uky.edu. N.p., n.d. Web.
Swift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal. Currents in British Literature II Course Packet. Comp. Ann McClellan. Plymouth, NH: 2014. Pg. 141-147.
Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko is one of the more famous pieces to come from the restoration period, and its popularity comes from the main character’s nobleness as a slave. Although the work presents itself in a way that leads the audience to believe that the narrator had a first-hand experience of the tale of the royal slave, it lack depth and accountability. Behn’s Oroonoko was a fictional work to stir political unrest in regards to both societal issues and slavery.
It is worth noting that Aphra Behn was a Tory, and she was opposed to the Exclusion Crisis that was favored by the Whigs. Behn used her writing to attack the Whig opposition by stressing its commitment to radical religion, and emphasizing its links with republicanism (Williams &O’Connor). Behn attacks extreme religion multiple times when utilizing the noble savage ideal. “Religion would here but destroy that tranquility they possess by ignorance; and laws would but teach ‘em to know offense, of which now they have no notion” (Behn, 96). Behn simply states here that trying to get the people of Oroonoko’s culture to ‘possess’ any sort of religion before having any organized religion prior would be chaotic. A couple of words in this statement really stick out in how she words this. ‘Tranquility’ means that up to this point, Oroonoko’s people lived in perfect peace and harmony; ‘ignorance’ is used here to describe any sort of organized religion. Religious laws would ‘teach’ them to know what is wrong, and by giving them those laws and rules, they therefore can disobey them, which would have been a new concept for them. Although this can be a subtle notion for the noble savage ideal, Behn makes the statement by reckoning that religion is not always the answer, especially for people of Oroonoko’s kind.
In relation to the works’ beginning, Behn starts the piece by stating that this was all real, that she could not make something like this up. We have to understand that for her to write this, she would have to have been on the scene to truly get the idea of what this character must be like. “But we who were perfectly charmed with the character of this great man were curious to gather every circumstance of his life” (Behn, 94). Throughout the piece, she uses the pronoun ‘we’ to describe those who are enriched with Oroonoko’s story. Here we see the first example. Behn says that we are curious to hear all about every detail of Oroonoko’s life, and that because she was there and had a first-hand experience, we get to see how great and noble of a man this royal slave is. We could also make the general assumption that the ‘we’ could even refer to the tory audience that Behn was trying to envelop. As a slave trader of that time, this is not something you would want to tune in for solely based on the idea that the beginning paragraph shows slaves in a positive light.
One thing that Behn never really takes sides on whether or not slavery is right or wrong. We have a general understanding that to this point she is by and large on Oroonoko’s side, and even after the tale is over we still see that she wants the legacy of Oroonoko to live on. “Thus died this great man, worthy of a better fate, and a more sublime wit than mine to write this praise: yet, I hope, the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his glorious name to survive all the ages…” (Behn, 134). She says that Oroonoko is a great guy, and that even though he was a slave, his name should be known for years to come. Behn uses the word ‘great,’ and ‘glorious’ to talk about Oroonoko, and claimed that his wit outlasted hers. She claims that her writing has a reputation, and that she hopes that her name is reputable enough to publish a work as uncommon as this. As mentioned, she never claims to take a side as to whether she is for or against slavery; however, she wants it to be known that this Oroonoko should be known throughout the land for years and years to come, and it all but solidifies her stance.
Lastly, for someone like Aphra Behn, it would be easy to fixate a story like this. He father was the Lord-Governer of Surinam, and if she truly wanted to get to know the slaves on that particular plantation, it would not have been very hard to accomplish. Figuring out whether or not Oroonoko was a real person or not can easily be debated, but it is safe to assume that this was a fictional piece written to present political issues of the time being. “Though this digression is a little from my story, however, since it contains some proofs of the curiosity and daring of this great man, I was content to omit nothing of his character” (Behn, 95). Here, she is talking about the adventures Caesar would go on; tiger killing, fishing, etc. ‘Digression’ is an understatement, but she wanted to make sure that everybody knew of the type of character he was. He was ‘curious’ and ‘daring,’ which to this point, he never was. He was the type of person who would obey his commands and do as he is told. This is the first time we hear Behn talk about these characteristics in relation to Oroonoko, and it makes it seem as though this part of the history could easily have been made up to attract attention.
We have covered the fact that the character of Oroonoko could be debated as a fictional or non-fictional character, as well as the stance that Behn was believed to have on slavery. It is nearly impossible to really determine whether either of these are true or not, and we may never know. One question that will continue to be debated, however, is why she wrote this. The evidence above (which barely scratches the surface) should be enough to tell you that Aphra Behn wrote this as a political attack on the Whigs. She did not like way politics were shaping in the 1670’s, and this history exemplifies her political views in a subtle, but recognizable manner.
Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave.” Currents in British Literature. Ed. Dr. Ann McClellan. Buford, GA: LAD Custom Publishing, nd. 94-134. Print.
Williams, Abigail, and O’Connor, Kate. “Aphra Behn and Political Culture.” Great Writers Inspire. University of Oxford, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.